Ark. police ‘confident’ they’ve found all 20 flood victims after recovering body of young girl

By Chuck Bartels, AP
Monday, June 14, 2010

Ark. police ‘confident’ 20th flood victim is last

LANGLEY, Ark. — State police say they’re “quite confident” the body of a young girl found Monday is the last one they were looking for after a flash flood swept through an Arkansas campground.

Capt. Mike Fletcher says police want to compare DNA collected from the family to the body before officially identifying the flood’s 20th victim.

Dozens of people were feared missing after the pre-dawn Friday flood, but authorities narrowed their search Sunday to just one person known to have been camping at the Albert Pike Recreation Area.

Fletcher says that although girl’s body is believed to be the last one sought, crews will conduct a limited search Tuesday. But it will be scaled back from the hundreds of people who took to the woods and river in the past few days.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

LANGLEY, Ark. (AP) — Crews on Monday found the body of a young girl who was the 20th victim of a flash flood that devastated a popular Arkansas campground, but they continued searching because it wasn’t clear whether the girl was the last person reported missing.

Officials had said earlier that they still were looking for a young girl missing from the Albert Pike Recreation Area campground. But State Police Capt. Fletcher said searchers weren’t sure if the girl whose body they found was the same one reported missing by her family.

Police will wait to announce the girl’s name until her identity is confirmed by dental records or DNA, Fletcher said.

Dozens of people were feared missing after the pre-dawn Friday flood, but authorities narrowed their search Sunday to just one person known to have been camping at the Albert Pike Recreation Area. They said they believe many others first feared missing were camping in other parts of the state, without cell phone coverage.

State police and other agencies were to decide Monday night whether to continue the search Tuesday, spokesman Bill Sadler said.

“We did have some names of individuals whose families did come to us with direct evidence or information of persons present in the park and we believe we have identified all of those individuals in one way or the other,” Sadler said.

“Is that to say that there are not any other victims in the Little Missouri River? We can’t say that, that is why there is a continuing search and recovery operation under way.”

A heavy storm sent a wall of water rushing down the river while most campers were sleeping, leaving them scrambling in the dark for safety amid the area’s steep terrain. Floodwaters rose up to 8 feet per hour, pouring through the remote valley with such force that they peeled asphalt from roads. Cabins along the river banks were severely damaged, and mobile homes were tossed on their sides.

Forecasters had warned of the approaching danger in the area during the night, but campers could easily have missed the advisories because the area is isolated and cell phone service is poor.

Crews had searched some fifty miles of river and tributaries at least twice, and three or four times in some areas, Forest Service Incident Commander Mike Quesinberry said. The terrain made it impossible to bring in heavy equipment to unlock some of the huge debris piles that collected along the river. One measured 30 feet high and more than 100 feet long, he said.

“This is an area that’s so rugged, there’s so much debris … you can’t get to it,” Fletcher said.

Eighteen of the 20 victims have been publicly identified, among them seven children age 7 or younger. Eight of the 18 were from Louisiana, seven were from Texas and three were from Arkansas.

Among the victims were 23-year-old Leslie Jez and her 3-year-old son, Kaden, of Foreman, Ark., and Jez’s 46-year-old mother, Sheri Wade, of Ashdown, Ark. Leslie’s husband and Kaden’s father, Adam Jez, survived.

The family set out to the campground Thursday, a day earlier than normal because of Adam’s work schedule. It was a decision that proved fatal.

“(Kaden’s) only vocabulary when it wasn’t ‘mama’ and ‘daddy’ consisted of tractors and horses,” Leslie’s grandfather, former Arkansas legislator Charles “Bubba” Wade, said Sunday. “I can just see her holding the baby” during the flood, Wade said, his words choked with grief.

Wade said camping trips and the outdoors were commonplace for his large family. His children and grandchildren went to Boy and Girl Scout events at the campground, and Kaden and Leslie rode horses and rounded up cattle together.

“Little Kaden had been up here on my 81st birthday, sitting on my lap with cowboy boots on,” said Wade, who spent 18 years as a state lawmaker and introduced the legislation that created the nearby Millwood State Park.

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